TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With the start of primary elections looming, the four Republicans fighting to emerge as Donald Trump’s top alternative scrapped Wednesday in the most combative debate yet.
Some of the sharpest clashes took place between Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who traded barbs throughout a two-hour debate that featured more expansive answers thanks partly to the smaller field.
Biotech executive Vivek Ramaswamy, a longshot contender battling for attention, also focused the bulk of his attacks on Haley, a sign of her rising stature on the campaign trail after gaining ground in recent polls at DeSantis’ expense. (“I love all the attention, fellas,” she quipped at one point.)
Missing from the stage was Trump, who skipped all the debates. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the most assertive Trump critic in the race, chided his opponents for “acting as if the race is between the four of us” rather than with Trump, whom he called an aspiring dictator.
In an echo of his aggressive debate performances during his 2016 presidential bid, Christie also meticulously picked apart Ramaswamy, whom he dubbed the “most obnoxious blowhard in America.” Ramaswamy shot back that he should “enjoy a nice meal and get the hell out of this race.”
DeSantis and Haley largely ignored Ramaswamy, the first-time contender who has modeled his campaign on Trump’s say-anything rhetoric.
“It’s not worth my time to respond to him,” Haley said with a shrug, after Ramaswamy held up a legal pad that accused her of corruption.
While the quartet of candidates used most of the questions to land scripted talking points, they did break new ground on the University of Alabama stage.
Christie said he “would absolutely” send U.S. troops to aid Israel in saving hostages held by Hamas if military advisers recommended the intervention.
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